The University has formed two new partnerships that will allow students to participate in the Naval and Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps starting next semester, said Karen McNeil, program director of the Office of Student Veterans and Commissioning Programs. In addition to these programs — at the College of the Holy Cross for the Navy and at Worcester Polytechnic Institute for the Air Force — students also have the option to train through the existing Army ROTC partnership with Providence College.
Students have already shown interest in participating in the new ROTC programs, McNeil said, adding that students seem particularly interested in the Holy Cross Naval ROTC program, which encompasses both the Navy and the Marine Corps.
“For many years, there were people who were advocating for an expanded presence for ROTC on campus,” she said, adding that the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2011 spurred many peer institutions to begin expanding their ROTC programs.
A contentious history
After “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed in 2011, the Committee on the ROTC released a report reexamining the University’s relationship with ROTC.
Brown and many of its peer institutions needed to look at whether they were “offering the best opportunities to their students,” McNeil said.
The report, published in 2012, and affirmed the 1969 faculty resolution that banned ROTC during the midst of the Vietnam War. Under this resolution, the University must designate ROTC programs as extracurricular activities, with program instructors unable to obtain faculty status, according to the report.
When the committee wrote its report, few Brown students were participating in ROTC through the partnership with Providence College, but many students and alums advocated for ROTC to have a larger presence on campus, McNeil said. As many as 60 percent of alums were “strongly in favor” of Brown becoming a host for an ROTC program, according to a poll placed in Brown’s alumni magazine, the report said.
With conflicting desires to increase opportunities to participate in ROTC on campus while still upholding the 1969 resolution, “the conclusion of the ROTC report was that the most feasible way (to bring ROTC back on campus) is to work with other schools with partnerships,” McNeil said.
After the report was published, then-President Ruth Simmons made a statement to the campus recommending the University continue to uphold the 1969 resolution and its ban on hosting a ROTC program, according to a letter she sent to the Brown community in October 2011. Simmons cited continued discrimination against transgender individuals and “opposition to recent wars undertaken by the country” as grounds for upholding the ban.
In addition, Simmons wrote that students should be able to participate in off-campus Naval and Air Force ROTC programs that were not offered at the time.
The University then began talks with potential partner schools to make these programs possible, but “any changes in the status of ROTC (had) to be approved by a vote of faculty,” McNeil said.
At its February 2015 meeting, the faculty endorsed new partnerships for Naval and Air Force ROTC by a 35-29 vote after much debate, giving the University the go-ahead to finalize the partnerships with Holy Cross and WPI this past summer, McNeil said.
Military perspectives on campus
For Brown students in the Army ROTC at Providence College, the program is an extracurricular activity that can come with a large time commitment.
Four Brown students currently participate in ROTC — a low number relative to the size of the student population, McNeil said. As the program director for the SVCP, McNeil said she does not recruit or “sell” ROTC to students, but she does hope that more students will become interested in participating in ROTC to bring a different perspective to campus, she added.
“We’d like knowledge of the military to be a part of the culture at Brown,” McNeil said. “Even just sitting next to a veteran or an ROTC student in class, seeing them as a person and knowing that people who go into the military are normal people, having that kind of interaction is very important.”
Having more students in the program will also create an atmosphere where ROTC students do not feel “singled out” among their peers, she said.
Johnathan Davis ’16, student coordinator for the SVCP, is currently in his fourth year of ROTC. Davis fully committed to ROTC the fall of his sophomore year, he said, adding that it was a difficult transition knowing that he was “taking a different path” than most Brown students.
“I had to understand and accept that,” Davis said. “From there, things were a lot better,” especially because of friendships with non-Brown students who also participate in the program.
While on campus and in uniform, Davis said students tend to approach him with curiosity. “At most, I’ll get surprised looks that somebody in military uniform is walking around campus, and I get a lot of questions.”
Of the four students who participate in ROTC, two have previous exposure to the military.
Kaela Lynch ’19 grew up in a military family and knew that she wanted to commit to ROTC when she came to college.
“I figured having the balance of ROTC — having that military presence in my life — but also going to college and getting a good education was important,” Lynch said.
Similarly, William Summers ’19 came to Brown with prior military exposure through his high school’s Junior ROTC program.
Hosting ROTC at Brown
Though ROTC participation rates among Brown students are low, if the rate ever increases to the point where Brown students are “straining the resources of partner schools,” then the University would probably host its own program, McNeil said.
Aside from low numbers, other constraints also contribute to the University’s preference for partner programs over one of its own, McNeil said. The two major factors are the costs involved for the military in establishing a new program and the need for faculty approval of any changes related to the military on campus, she added.
Given that ROTC is subsidized by the U.S. military, it is preferable that schools form partnerships to keep costs down than create a new program entirely, she said.
And while the faculty did endorse the partnerships with Holy Cross and WPI, allowing Brown to host its own ROTC program would mandate changing the 1969 resolution, which would require flexibility from both the military and faculty members, some of whom are stark opponents of ROTC.
Professor of English William Keach said programs like ROTC infringe on the independence that colleges and universities should have from entities such as the U.S. government. Keach said he has a lot of questions about military policies in general — beyond ROTC.
“Colleges and universities make an important contribution to society generally in providing critical analysis of things like public policy and military policy,” Keach said. “Having that be independent of the formal structures and authority of something like the United States military is extremely important for something like academic independence.”
Keach is especially opposed to the “curricular role” that ROTC can have on some campuses, especially schools that host ROTC programs, he said. While Brown still treats ROTC like an extracurricular, Keach believes that partnerships are not “the real solution to the difficulty” that comes with having ROTC be part of a student’s curriculum, he added.
Currently, courses taken as part of the ROTC program appear on students’ transcripts but are not credit-bearing.
“Can we think of another analogous program where a government entity offers coursework on a university’s campus in a systematic way?” Keach said.
With the new partnerships, Brown leaves Dartmouth as the only school in the Ivy League to not offer its students an option to participate in Navy and Air Force ROTC programs, McNeil wrote in a follow-up email to The Herald.
McNeil said allowing Brown students to choose to take courses specific to the careers they want to pursue is an educational opportunity, adding that they still “take their full complement of Brown courses.”
ROTC is especially important in training students to be leaders within the military, Davis said, adding that participants in the program are “given a lot of responsibility.”
“In the real world in the military, as an officer, you’re leading 40-plus individuals,” Davis said. “And with that, a lot has to go into leadership and effectively leading those individuals, especially in battle.”
Lynch similarly praised her experience with the Army ROTC program. When she first came to Brown, she was thinking about pursuing medical school after graduating in active duty with ROTC, she said. But because she has enjoyed participating in ROTC so much, Lynch said she foresees herself interested in a job in the military after graduation.
“ROTC is one of the many opportunities (that students have), and if a student is interested in military service for whatever reason. I don’t see any benefit in trying to block their path,” McNeil said.